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Sass Rogando Sasot: Love Advocate

After a suicide attempt, “I lived with a deep sense of purpose: I would help initiate a transgender movement in the Philippines, and I’d like to become part of a group that would help initiate change in our society,” recalls Sass Rogando Sasot, who helped establish STRAP that now help to empower transpinays.

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Sass Rogando Sasot
Co-founder, Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines

“Engaging in activism, especially in an advocacy work that is so close to your heart, can be so depressing and frustrating sometimes – but this kind of activism is about stimulating a paradigm shift, and history has shown us that paradigm shifts come not so easily, (with) a critical mass needed for deep-rooted change. You cannot create this critical mass, but you can be part of it,” says Sass Rogando Sasot.

“I got involved, and am still involved, in transgender (TG) activism and advocacy because of love.”

That, says Sass Rogando Sasot, is how she, well, got involved in GLBTQIA advocacy.

“My high school life was laced by intense doubt about everything handed to me by culture and tradition. I questioned the way things are. Blind conformity suffocated me.”

In 1999, as a fourth year high school student, “gender gender politics aroused my interest,” says Sass, who, at that time, had a relationship “with one of my classmates, (which) sparked a scandal in my school, an exclusive Roman Catholic school for boys. Everyone wanted to offer an explanation why my boyfriend fell in love with me: Was he insane? Or was he a homosexual? My boyfriend and I even had an awkward conversation about this, with me asking him: ‘Do you like me because I’m a boy?’  He said no. For him and for me, he was just a boy falling in love and having a relationship with a girl. But, ultimately, it was a non-issue for us. After all, it wasn’t gender identity nor sexual orientation that sparked the love we felt and shared with each other. Love, after all, is genderless, hence has no sexual orientation.”

Sass, of course, recognizes “that strange tenacity to force other people to define themselves so that we can bear the indefinability and immensity of life and love by turning them into spectacles of convenient labels,” she says. It was, after all, this tendency to define, i.e. in the “way people treated my boyfriend” that made Sass “so concerned to define my gender. This quest for definition led me to know and understand transsexualism (TS).”

GROWING PAINS

Sass’ earliest exposures to TS were through the Internet – understandably predominated by Western literature, so that “at an early age of 17, my brain devoured everything about transsexual issues. I read, through the website of symposion.com, the e-book version of Harry Benjamin’s seminal book, The Transsexual Phenomenon. I related so much to his description of transsexualism. From that moment, I considered myself as a transsexual girl,” she says.

Male-to-female transsexualism was, by the way, the subject of Sass’ term paper in her English class (then).

After self-identifying as a TS, Sass came out to her mother through a letter – and it would become one of the most painful decision she is to do in life.

“Through a letter, I told her that I was not gay, that I was a transsexual, that I wanted to start taking hormones, and live full time as a woman. It was the first time I opened up to a family member,” Sass says.

Perhaps she should have anticipated the usual (negative) reaction, but “I thought she would be supportive. I was wrong. It alarmed her. She had my hair, which was below my chin (then), cut so incredibly short. She insisted that I am not a girl but a boy because I have a penis. And that instead of reading the stuff I was reading, I should start reading those that would forge a male identity in me. She advised me to start thinking ‘I’m a boy’ and nothing else. She assured me that there is nothing going to happen in my life if I insist on what I like and that my talent and intelligence would just waste away because society will never accept people like me. To cap it all, she threatened that she would not pay my college education if I would continue my delusion.’”

It was this reaction from a loved one that developed in Sass internalized transphobia – with her initial “acceptance that perhaps my mother was right,” especially since she had no one to turn to for support, so she came to think, too, that “There’s nothing good that was going to happen to me if I would insist on what I said I am: I would just end up as society’s entertainment. To go on existing like what she insisted me to be, which is as a man, and to live as what I felt myself to be, which is as a woman, were no different from being dead.”

Unhappy with her situation, and the seeming futility of living, Sass attempted suicide in December 2000.

PURPOSE DRIVEN

After Sass’ suicide attempt, “I lived with a deep sense of purpose: I would help initiate a transgender movement in the Philippines, and I’d like to become part of a group that would help initiate change in our society. I want a society that would cherish, value, and respect the flourishing of one’s individuality. My 20th century ended with this purpose flickering inside of me, driving me to go and explore the world,” she says.

That was after EDSA 2 (which saw the removal from the Office of the Presidency of Joseph Ejercito Estrada), sometime in January 2001, when Sass – after writing to volunteer herself to, among others, Amnesty International-Philippines and the Rationalist Humanist Society of the Philippines. The latter allowed her to meet “a group of free thinkers, passionate individuals, mostly from a generation senior than mine, who would like to propel secularism in the Philippines.”

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Among the people Sass met were “Poch Suzara, a staunch atheist and humanist; and Margarita Ventinalla-Hamada, founder of Harvent School, a school in Pangasinan (a province in the Philippines) which doesn’t use grades and considers its students as individuals rather than a group of people receiving indoctrination”; and Aleksi Gumela, who “shared the same dance that I was dancing – a gay guy, an anarchist, an atheist, a freethinker, a bohemian, a philosopher, an artist, a creature of the counterculture. Aleksi shared the same zest for exploring life beyond tradition and conventions that was flickering in me,” Sass says.

It was Aleksi who introduced Sass to the Luneta University – a gathering of free-spirited radicals (meeting at the Chess Plaza), “self-styled rebels with a lot of cause,” who gathered for “discussions on philosophical questions: from art, to boredom, to god, to stupidity. We nurtured each other’s intellectual development.

Sass Rogando Sasot: “Society is so genital-centric. The genitalia, a minuscule part of a person, become the most definitive part of the body – more than our brains. If you’re going to come to think of it, the male and female on our birth certificates, as well as the question ‘Are you boy or a girl?’ are all euphemisms to telling others and asking you what genitalia you have between your legs.”

The homeless, the vagabonds, and sidewalk vendors listened to our conversations. We wanted freedom from the fangs of hierarchy. We believed in no gods, in no masters, in personal liberation, in individuality, in diversity, in mutualism, in a voluntary society. We held Food Not Bombs sessions. We marched in anti-globalization rallies. But along our seriousness, we had our share of fun and deep belly laughter. It was our la vie boheme!”

It was this partnership with Aleksi that paved the way for the formation of the Luneta Freedom Collective (LFC), a counterculture performance art group that performed in “artsy” bars, in a zine convention, in an underground punk concert, in protest rallies, in a gathering of filmmakers in a full moon’s night, in the park, in schools – and it was this that allowed Sass to showcase Ayoko sa mundo nyo (I don’t want to be in your world), a monologue she wrote about the struggle for personal gender and sexual liberation.

KILLING THE SPIRIT

In May 2001, Sass experienced yet another blow of discrimination.

“It was from the college department of the school where I finished my elementary and secondary school. I was already aware that they were tough about ‘effeminate’ students – after all, it was a school with: 1) An official recommendation letter form that asked the person writing your recommendation, who was usually your class adviser and guidance counselor, to rate your masculinity from 1 to 10; and 2) That required ‘effeminate’ students, along with their parents, to sign a ‘pink form’ that acted as sort of contract that the student wouldn’t be ‘effeminate’ in school. These things were already horrendous, right? What they did to me was more deplorable – I wasn’t allowed to take the entrance examination,” Sass recalls, adding how “the head of the admission’s officer, Mrs. C, had the gall – or the conscience – to talk to me and explained right in my face why they were doing it.”

Supposedly, for being effeminate (sans recognition for her being for being a TS), Sass was considered a bad influence – “That they know that I was an intelligent student, but, since it was an all-boys’ school, a Catholic school, the way I presented myself would be problematic,” Sass says. “Then she tried to console me by giving me a dash of hope. Sensing my desperation, she issued some sort of a bargain: If I were willing to act as some kind of a role model to the younger years, they might consider me. That I would show that I have changed, that I have let go of my ‘old ways,’ that I would clearly demonstrate that I was a reformed flamboyant effeminate who finally embraced and accepted his masculinity.”

Sass, of course, couldn’t live a lie.

At that time was when Sass got connected with the Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines, the group that organizes the annual Pride March in Metro Manila – a group that, for a while, was in the receiving end of Sass’ anger, blamed for “claiming that they were representing LGBTs, even if they didn’t really understand transgender issues, and that what they were doing was just tokenism.” It was select people from TFP (particularly Malu Marin and Ging Cristobal) who encouraged Sass to form a transgender group.

RISE OF STRAP

That discrimination is done even by those suppose to fight anti-discrimination is a fact, e.g. On July 29, 2001, the Regional Director of the Commission on Human Rights in Cebu, Attorney Alejandro Alonzo, commenting on a TG being barred entry to a club in Cebu City for wearing women’s clothing, was quoted as saying: “They (gays) should wear proper attire, and I don’t think (the club’s policy is) a violation because customers should follow the house rules. There should be appropriate attire because they are governed by dress code.” He added: “If you’re a man, you should wear the apparel of a man or vice versa.”

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The continuing discrimination – and lack of representation to speak in behalf of the discriminated – led in 2002 a meeting between Sass and Jane, who agreed to meet to discuss the formation of a transgender support and advocacy group, the Society of Trans and Gender Rights Activists of the Philippines (STRAP).

In July of 2002, Sass met Vee (through a common friend), and then in November in 2002, Sass met Dee (who read a transcript of Sass’ speech delivered in Italy on the website of Transgender Asia Research Centre), leading to another meeting in December 2002, when STRAP was “formally” established.

Unfortunately, for its lack of focus (“After all, the transgender community is such a broad and diverse group with so many issues and concerns,” Sass says), STRAP was only active for a year and then became dormant.

In March 2003, Sass then became a research assistant for Dr. Sam Winter, centre director of Transgender Asia Research Centre (TARC), which did a study on male-to-female (MTF) transgender people in the Philippines, particularly in the three major cities of Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, and Metro Davao.

Interestingly, completion of the research (done in 2003 and 2004, with the output published in the Volume 11 of the International Journal of Transgenderism, the journal that Sass herself used to read in high school) triggered “one of the most depressive episodes, so far, in my life. As I was talking to respondents, I got so immersed into their stories. I felt their hopelessness, their apathy, their utter resignation that ‘it’s just the way things are.’ I became extremely jealous of their resignation. I envied their apathy.”

Sass, at first, “did all escape possible to get out of this crisis. I partied a lot. Dated a lot. I did everything to make my depression bearable. My life was in chaos. I was so lost, lost, lost, and lost. I could no longer recognize who I was.”

In October 2004, Sass decided to go back to her family, “hoping to retrace my footsteps and find what I had lost along the way.” This meant becoming “masculine” – something that made her mother happy enough to send Sass to school again; though the stay only lasted for a year, when Sass was able to “slowly emerge from the abyss I had fallen into.”

On May 20, 2005, Sass met up with Dee and Veronica to re-launch STRAP – this time, “making (it) focus on one issue (which in itself is complex enough) to make it more effective and efficient in the long run.” STRAP, despite retaining the acronym, was also renamed as the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines.

In October 2005, Sass decided to finally “end my masquerade – since there was no way I could live as a woman and be with my family, I left them. I stayed with friends and worked in call centers.”

By then of course, she has already become one of the key voices to represent the TG and TS community – e.g. in 2006, Sass served as a moderator for the opening plenary session of the First Transgender Rights Conference (also during the 23rd International Lesbian and Gay Association or ILGA World Conference) in Geneva, Switzerland.

In 2006, too, after a friend (Sophia) helped her, Sass secured an educational grant, so she is now back to school, taking up Human Resource Management at the Open University of Hong Kong.

BIG INSPIRATIONS

“I prefer the word inspire to influence because the people I encountered in my life inspired me to spark by myself this passion rather than influence me to have this passion,” Sass says.

Sass Rogando Sasot: “I prefer the word inspire to influence because the people I encountered in my life inspired me to spark by myself this passion rather than influence me to have this passion.”

Among those to inspire her include: “My boyfriend in high school was so supportive of my interest – we saw a book (Patrick Califia’s Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism) in the book section of Tower Records sometime in 2000, and he bought it for me, and that took my journey into the world of transgender activism and gender and sexuality issues into a much deeper level.”

And then, since her days in Luneta, her friend Aleksi; FTM activists (“My first real mentors”); Jamison Green (“An FTM activist and an international transgender activist – I consider him as my first mentor”); Dr. Stephen Whittle, OBE (one of the founding members of Press for Change UK, and one of the writers of the Yogyakarta Principles); and Briton Sophia (“who helped me have education”).

And then there are Dee Mendoza (“Current chairwoman of STRAP, who inspired me to be diplomatic); Pau Fontanos (“Her hard work for the community has been a constant source of inspiration”); Bemz Benedito, secretary of Ang Ladlad Party List (“who stood up for her dignity in the sexual harassment case she filed against a co-worker”); Ms Georgina Beyer, a former Member of the Parliament of New Zealand, the first transsexual person in the world who was elected as an MP; and the women of STRAP (“They have been a constant source of joy and courage. They have widened my understanding of life, in general, and of living this kind of life, in particular”).

Becoming a TG activist hasn’t been easy – but it’s always fruitful, says Sass. “Engaging in activism, especially in an advocacy work that is so close to your heart, can be so depressing and frustrating sometimes – but this kind of activism is about stimulating a paradigm shift, and history has shown us that paradigm shifts come not so easily, (with) a critical mass needed for deep-rooted change. You cannot create this critical mass, but you can be part of it.”

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FACING CHALLENGES

“Being a transgender person is fraught with so much difficulty. Generally speaking, opportunities in life are already scarce. But the prejudice against people who violate gender norms raises the cost of getting an opportunity for people like us,” Sass says. Living as a TG “can be a lonely life. Having a loving relationship can be so difficult. Non-transsexual people don’t need to explain to whoever they are dating that genitals they were born with. There’s always that worry that people will reject you not because of you, as a person, but because you don’t fit the standard definition of what it means to be male or female.”

This is why, for Sass, advocating TG rights is important – and this is even if “doing advocacy work for TG people is like talking in a foreign language. How do you explain to people your internal reality, considering that most of us are too lazy to scratch beneath the surface and question the assumptions handed over to us by tradition? Moreover, society is so genital-centric. The genitalia, a minuscule part of a person, become the most definitive part of the body – more than our brains. If you’re going to come to think of it, the male and female on our birth certificates, as well as the question ‘Are you boy or a girl?’ are all euphemisms to telling others and asking you what genitalia you have between your legs.”

Sass elaborates: “I face the personal challenges of being a transgender person by appreciating the things that come my way, no matter how insignificant they seem. Just like in creativity, we get acquainted with happiness through the simple things in life. The world is certainly not beautiful all the time, but it’s also not just about hate, violence, despair, and all those horrible things. The beauty of a sunset, the elegance of a crescent moon, the eloquence of a shared laughter, the unselfish sound of rain, is all greater than the pain and loneliness we experience in this world.”

As an advocate, Sass considers an achievement “being able to inspire people to take the responsibility to stand up for themselves. Sometime in January 2009, while I was in Malate with friends, someone approached me and asked me whether I’m Sass Sasot. She was a young woman of transgender experience. She told me that she was inspired by the article I wrote for (the now defunct) ICON Magazine and that she was inspired to follow her dreams wherever it will take them. That moment was just so heartwarming.”

There remain challenges, obviously – and not just for Sass and/or the TG community, but the whole GLBTQIA community.

“This is what disappoints me: the current lack of dialogue in the community – this prevents us from having a united front,” Sass says, adding that she is, nonetheless, inspired by GLBTQIAs “who have an intimate affair with their courage.”

For Sass, there are three issues the Filipino GLBTQIA community has to focus on, i.e. 1) The passage of the Anti-Discrimination law (“We need legal remedies if we experience unfair discrimination based on our sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression”); 2) Dialogue with the business and school communities (“The key players in these two sectors can pave the way for making the workplace and schools in our country safe for sexual and gender diversity”); and 3) Passage of a Gender Recognition Law similar to that of the UK and Spain (“It’s about time that the lived gender identity of transsexual people be reflected on their legal papers “).
With these, Sass, not surprisingly, intends to “follow the beating of my star, keep on drumming my own drum, and perhaps, along the way, find someone I can share my song with. Life is always throwing me in directions where I always get involved with transgender issues, so you can expect me that in whatever I do in life will be along these lines or at least intersects with it.”

STANDING PROUD

Pieces of advice are, says Sass, oftentimes a result of one’s frustration in life; “but if you insist that I give them, here they are: First: remember that you are doing it for yourself. This may sound as an egoistic way of approaching advocacy. I’m not a fan of advocating ‘selflessness’ as I firmly believe that selflessness cannot be advocated, to campaign for it is to kill it. Know and understand yourself, don’t be afraid of your own shadow, and that of others,” Sass says.

She then adds that, second: Always remember that you are part of any system you are against, you were born out of it, you live in it. The system does not exist independently of us and we don’t exist independently of it – we build it as much as it builds us. We are not above, beyond, nor outside of it. Everyone is both a demon and an angel in this intricate web of oppression. To dismantle the system is to dismantle your self – be prepared, for it takes so much courage and honesty to accept this.”

And “third: In the course of your advocacy, you may affect some changes in policy, but these, at best, no matter how much we fought for them, are cosmetic ones. Change, like in matter, comes in subtle ways and this is the change that is transformative and the one that you will unavoidably exude after you yourself flow at one with the change you want in others. Light doesn’t preach to darkness, the night simply knows its time is over and gives way to daylight.”

It is still love that drives Sass now.

“Best lesson learned in life? That we are more than our pain and suffering. No matter how many times we fall, it is inevitable that we will stand up again,” Sass ends. “And if you want a lasting revolution, then LOVE! – dance with it!”

"If someone asked you about me, about what I do for a living, it's to 'weave words'," says Kiki Tan, who has been a writer "for as long as I care to remember." With this, this one writes about... anything and everything.

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Lesbian and intersex

Noting their difference even as a toddler, Alym Escultura came out as a lesbian while growing up. But they discovered that they are actually also intersex, which they said “complicates their issue for many people” because of “confusion”. As part of Intersex Philippines, Alym now educates people about intersex issues, while pushing for recognition that “intersex people should be included in discourses of equality.”

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBTQIA people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

Myla “Alym” Escultura, 44 and originally from Bicol, thinks they was a toddler when “I knew I’m different. I identified – and accepted – this difference by identifying as a lesbian. But there were questions in me on why my being a lesbian was different from the other lesbian women.”

When Alym was 22. “I realized I’m not just a lesbian, I am also intersex.”

Alym knew of this from resources she obtained online, after talking to people who are also intersex from all over the world, and – just as relevant – from “personal experience”.

“To start, anatomically, I’m different from other women,” Alym said, adding that because of her “personal engagements with other women”, they was able to differentiate the ‘normal’ and ‘not so normal’.

“This difference,” Alym said, “is very vivid/apparent. So I told myself I needed to know more about this.”

To young intersex Filipinos, “don’t be afraid,” Alym Escultura said. “Come out. Though you don’t have to advertise it to the world.”

To date, Alym still hasn’t had chromosomal analysis, mainly because this can be costly. Genetic testing can cost from under $100 to more than $2,000 (or equivalent in peso), depending on the nature/complexity of the test. The figure can still go higher if more than one test is necessary; and these tests may also not be readily available in the Philippines.

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But Alym already owns their being intersex.

“It’s not easy to be an intersex person,” Alym said.

In their case, for instance, “I am in the shadows/at the fringes of the lesbian community,” they said. “It is already complex to live as a lesbian, and then people realize, ‘What, you’re also intersex?’. You have to explain to people why you identify as a lesbian, and as intersex. People don’t necessarily know that my anatomical features are also different. And it’s hard to explain.”

And then there are the legalities – e.g. “If you were assigned male at birth, but your legal documents say you’re female. Right there, you already have an issue. What do you follow: Your legal documents, or how you really feel?”

“It’s not easy to be an intersex person,” Alym Escultura said.

Alym’s relationship with their family is, at least, fine. “They’re fine with me being a lesbian as long as I don’t bring shame to the family’s name.”

And “when they found out I’m also intersex, they took it as just a normal thing. For them, ‘We already accepted you for what you are. Your being intersex is just an add-on/bonus.'”

From Bicol, Alym eventually moved to Metro Manila.

“Resources that can help give you personal development are limited in the province. So I opted to be in a place where I can develop/cultivate myself. This way, I am not dependent on others,” they said.

For Alym, “you’re already (LGBTQIA), so you should be able to support yourself, be able to defend yourself. You should be able to help others without expecting anything in return.”

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Nowadays, “I don’t have to always tell people about my intersex condition. If they just identify me as a lesbian, that’s fine. But if they ask for more information about me, then I inject the information that I am also intersex.”

But Alym is finding their happiness now; living with their partner for almost three years now.

“If you were assigned male at birth, but your legal documents say you’re female. Right there, you already have an issue. What do you follow: Your legal documents, or how you really feel?”

To young intersex Filipinos, “don’t be afraid,” Alym said. “Come out. Though you don’t have to advertise it to the world. Look for others like you. Nowadays, we already have the Internet and there are online support groups.”

But Alym wants the LGBTQIA community to be inclusive. “We’re fighting for the same things. We’re fighting for inclusion. Similar to the declaration of the United Nations, ‘No one left behind’, we should support each other. We all want equal opportunity. We all want gender recognition. If we join our voices, then our voices will echo louder as we make our demands.”

And to people who ridicule intersex people, “that’s fine; that’s your choice. As long as you don’t do anything to physically harm us. We can take what you throw at us. But let me tell you this: We may be intersex people, but you’ll see that we’re willing and able to help, to build and make change for the better,” Alym ended.

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Intersex Pride

Assigned female at birth, Jeff Cagandahan petitioned the court to change his name and gender marker because of his intersex condition. His case reached the Supreme Court, which sided with him in 2008. He now helms Intersex Philippines, which he hopes will help make the “I” visible in the LGBTQIA community.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBTQIA people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

Jeff Cagandahan – 38 years old; from Paete, Laguna – was assigned female at birth, named Jennifer Cagandahan. But even “when I was young, I knew I was different. I couldn’t exactly say when I knew; but I knew even as a kid that I’m different.”

At that time, Jeff said he didn’t know of intersex conditions, but “I knew I’m different because of my ambiguous genitalia. I was assigned female at birth, but my genitalia wasn’t what was usually found in women.”

Jeff said that it wasn’t necessarily difficult being different when he was young. But it became more difficult as he got older.

To start, “I no longer identified as a woman would. I really saw myself as a man.”

This proved to be hard because of the social expectations linked with gender. For instance, while in elementary school, “I found it difficult to wear skirts just because I was assigned female at birth. It was difficult to act as a woman just because I was given a female name at birth. Because I identified as a man, it was hard to live as a woman. I thought and felt as a man, so there was a disconnect.”

Hi parents also do not talk about his condition at home. “And as much as possible, they do not want to talk about this at home.”

And when he started looking for a job, it was also difficult because his gender marker then was female, but his gender expression was masculine. And since it was a time when “female educators were told to wear skirts”, Jeff was also expected to wear skirts for work, befitting his sex assigned at birth.

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“I couldn’t live like that anymore,” Jeff recalled, “so I decided to file a petition in court to change my name and my gender marker.”

MAKING HISTORY

On December 11, 2003, Jeff filed a Petition for Correction of Entries in Birth Certificate before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 33 of Siniloan, Laguna. Specifically, he asked to change his name, and his sex (from female to male). His reason: He developed male characteristics while growing up because of a condition called Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH); this is one of the 40+ intersex conditions.

On January 12, 2005, the RTC granted Jeff’s petition. The RTC ordered the following changes of entries in Cagandahan’s birth certificate:
(1) The name Jennifer Cagandahan changed to Jeff Cagandahan
(2) His gender from female to male

The Office of the Solicitor General appealed the RTC’s decision. The OSG used the Silverio argument – that “Rule 108 does not allow change of sex or gender in the birth certificate”, and that “CAH does not make her a male”.

On December 11, 2003, Jeff Cagandahan filed a Petition for Correction of Entries in Birth Certificate before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 33 of Siniloan, Laguna. Specifically, he asked to change his name, and his sex (from female to male).

But in 2008, the Supreme Court (SC) sided with Jeff.

In its 2008 decision, the highest court stated:
“Ultimately, we are of the view that where the person is biologically or naturally intersex the determining factor in his gender classification would be what the individual… thinks of his/her sex.”

The SC added:
“(The) respondent is the one who has to live with his intersex anatomy.To him belongs the human right to the pursuit of happiness and of health. Thus, to him should belong the primordial choice of what courses of action to take along the path of his sexual development and maturation.”

The decision was written by Associate Justice Leonardo A. Quisumbing; with Conchita Carpio Morales, Dante O. Tinga, Presbitero J. Velasco Jr. and Arturo D. Brion concurring.

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“When the SC rendered its decision, I felt relieved knowing I can now live as I see fit. I can choose the gender I identify as; I no longer had to hide. I felt relieved after finally getting what I desired for so long. Those were very happy days for me,” Jeff said.

LIFE CHANGES

How did people react?

“With my family… even before the SC decision, they already knew/treated me as male.” Meanwhile, “I live in a small town, and people already know me there; but they knew more of me when the court’s decision was released. A lot of people understand my situation. But it can’t be avoided that there are still people who still don’t understand my condition.”

“When the SC rendered its decision, I felt relieved knowing I can now live as I see fit. I can choose the gender I identify as; I no longer had to hide,” Jeff Cagandahan said.

There have been major changes in Jeff’s life since then. He is now “happily married; I have a child. I live as a man.”

And because of the court’s decision, “I can now help others like me.”

One of the advocacies of intersex people is to stop gender mutilation. The LGBT community does not give this attention, said Jeff, because it’s particular to the intersex community.

But “this is one of our advocacies because we believe that a person, a child should be able to decide his/her gender. A person should be able to choose the gender he/she wants to live as.”

BECOMING AN INTERSEX ADVOCATE

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I became an advocate because I don’t want younger intersex people to experience the struggles I experienced. I want to take steps to make things easier for them.

Jeff is actually new to advocacy… even if the SC decided on his case in 2008.

“It took me so long to be an advocate because I had to learn self-acceptance first. It’s hard to help others when you can’t even help yourself. So I taught myself first about this; and to accept it. And then I became an advocate,” he said. “I accepted my intersex condition as a mission. A mission to help others. Intersex people should not be ashamed of their condition. To intersex people, you are not alone. I am here.”

There have been major changes in Jeff Cagandahan’s life since then. He is now “happily married; I have a child. I live as a man.”

Jeff also co-founded Intersex Philippines as a support group for intersex people in the Philippines.

NO LONGER INVISIBLE

“We are not rare. We are just invisible. And through the advocacy of Intersex Philippines, we’re no longer invisible,” he said. “I believe that through proper education,. and through sharing positive awareness about us, people’s minds will change.”

Moving forward, Jeff’s message to the LGBT community is: Always include “I”.

“It makes me happy that through the rainbow community, I meet other intersex people. This is because there are intersex people who ‘hide’ in the lesbian community, in the gay community,” he said.

It’s also “heartening that allies now approach to ask how they can help us. I hope you will continue helping, and include in your advocacies the intersex community.”

“We are not rare. We are just invisible. And through the advocacy of Intersex Philippines, we’re no longer invisible,” Jeff Cagandahan said.

To intersex Filipinos, “Don’t be ashamed. Do not be ashamed that you are intersex. Be proud. I always believed that God did not make a mistake in creating us.”

EDUCATE THYSELF

And to people whose ways of seeing intersex people still haven’t changed, “it may be better to speak directly to us. Talk directly to those who experienced discrimination and struggles so you understand what we’re going through.”

Jeff added: “We’re also people; just like you. If you have rights, so do we. We just dream of living normally… properly. There’s nothing wrong with this.”

So “continue to educate yourselves about intersex conditions. And if you have questions, I am willing to talk, Intersex Philippines is willing to talk… so you can better understand this issue.”

For more information, email jeffcagandahan@yahoo.com, or contact 09155159819.

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#KaraniwangLGBT

The lone drag queen

Kenneth Lemuel Esteban interviews Lawrence Villiones, a.k.a. Wire Shun, the 23-year-old lone drag queen of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, who believes that doing drag is not just a way of expression but is a way of self-empowerment that can also empower other people.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

“It is very hard to fight for my sexuality and, at the same time, fight for my drag artistry here in the province because most people here are not open enough to understand both.”

So said Lawrence Villiones, a.k.a. Wire Shun, the 23-year-old lone drag queen of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, who continues to experience hardships for being part of the LGBTQIA community and for being a drag artist in the province.

For Lawrence, discrimination happens every day for him as a member of the LGBTQIA community. “On a daily basis, discrimination is inevitable here in the province. You can witness discrimination in public and sometimes even at work.”

And as if Lawrence is not oppressed enough because of his sexuality, he is also forced to abstain from being the drag performer – something that he always wanted to become – due to the lack of drag culture, and the knowledge and appreciation of the same in the province.

“Being a drag queen here in the province can get really hard… because we don’t have nightclubs and bars that (hire) drag artists for gigs just like in other cities. If there only is a drag culture here in the province, I’d be able to live and enjoy my drag career to the fullest,” he said.

Nowadays, people often judge other people through race, size and gender preferences so Lawrence thinks that, “as a member of the LGBT community, we should convey messages of inclusion and diversity.”

Not surprisingly, Lawrence hopes that “someday, I want be able to have a platform to showcase my talent and show the people that I am more than just someone who can do drag make-up. I want to show them that I can also perform. I can also ‘lip-sync for my life’.”

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Lawrence discovered the art of drag when, “I was in high school, I saw ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’ on TV, and I got curious. I just tried to watch a single episode.” Lawrence said that at that moment, “I had zero interest and idea on what drag is. I just got the urge to know more about it.”

As soon as he finished college, he tried looking for a hobby, and “I rediscovered drag artistry on social media and I had the time that I didn’t have before so I decided to explore more from the world of drag.”

Lawrence’s drag name is Wire Shun, inspired by his favorite character from a Korean drama that he always watches.

Sometimes, Lawrence wants to go outside as Wire Shun but he can’t because “people here in the province might not understand my art.” he said. “Most of my neighbors might judge me because of my craft because other than the fact that they don’t understand the concept of drag, my drag style is very different and creepy so things might get too overwhelming for them.”

Lawrence added that “even my family is not aware that I do drag… No one knows that I do drag and that drag is my passion.”

And so for Lawrence, the only way for him to express his artistry is “by performing alone in my room.”

Lawrence hopes that “someday, I want be able to have a platform to showcase my talent and show the people that I am more than just someone who can do drag make-up. I want to show them that I can also perform. I can also ‘lip-sync for my life’.”

His drag style is, “very alternative. I serve looks that are very unique, spooky and sometimes it may even look alien-ish,” he said.

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Alternative drag is, Lawrence said, not the typical style that other drag artists do. “It is very different from the looks of other mainstream queens appearing on television because those queens are more focused on serving beauty pageant aesthetic and feminine looks. “

For him, “alternative drag on the other hand has no limitations when it comes to expressing your artistry”

Lawrence is very different from his drag persona; they are like a paradox.

Lawrence can be just as “mundane as I could be. I am just a person trapped in what the society expects me to be. I am just an artist looking for a way to express my talent and creativity.” When out of drag, “I am just this shy person who lacks a huge deal of confidence.” But when he is finally in drag, he can “get very wild and cocky… a complete opposite when he (I am) out of drag.”

Lawrence believes that doing drag is not just his outlet and way of expression, but is also his way of self-empowerment with hopes of empowering other people.

Nowadays, people often judge other people through race, size and gender preferences so Lawrence thinks that, “as a member of the LGBT community, we should convey messages of inclusion and diversity.” He gushed as he added that for him, “my drag artistry is my way of expression and through my art is how I convey that message to people.”

“Being a drag queen here in the province can get really hard… because we don’t have nightclubs and bars that (hire) drag artists for gigs just like in other cities. If there only is a drag culture here in the province, I’d be able to live and enjoy my drag career to the fullest,” he said.

To the aspiring drag queens and artists in general who thinks that they are limited because they are in the province, Lawrence has this to say: “Living in a (non-metropolitan) city is not that big of a deal because no matter where we are, we can showcase our talent and artistry. We just need to learn how to be resourceful. Just unleash your creativity and you can do it no matter who you are. All drag is valid. So just keep on honing your craft and artistry. Let’s just live on and keep on learning so that we’ll be able to reach our goals in life.”

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People You Should Know

What it’s like to be a lesbian artist in this generation

Meet Pixie Labrador, an openly lesbian singer/songwriter, who laments the under-representation of lesbians in the music industry, which is unfortunate because she believes that music can help mainstream discussion of LGBTQIA issues. “Lesbians get invalidated, discriminated and fetishized because of who we choose to love, and it’s disappointing to know that… some people would choose to overlook the passion and dedication we’ve put into honing our art,” she says.

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Photo courtesy of Pixie Labrador

“Lesbian artists in the Philippines are not being represented enough. In fact, if I’m being honest, it would’ve taken me a while to name a few at the top of my head, which is alarming and something I’m not proud of. It’s a shame because we are part of such a talented, inspiring community, and very few people recognize it.”

That, according to Pixie Labrador, is the current state of representation of lesbian artists in the Philippines.

And for her, this is bad because “lesbians get invalidated, discriminated and fetishized because of who we choose to love, and it’s disappointing to know that the close-mindedness of some people would choose to overlook the passion and dedication we’ve put into honing our art.”

Pixie is an openly lesbian singer/songwriter, with over 9,095 monthly listeners on Spotify. Her most popular song on Spotify – “What’s it Like” – is about unrequited love, but uses just the right amount of pronouns for fans to openly identify her pride on her gender identity. The same song – which has a stanza that goes: “And I know from a distance| That I can’t compare | To the burn in her eyes | Or the love that she bears | It’s too much to hand over | But you never cared | For as long as your heart was with her” – is also included on her first album, “Does It Hurt””.

“Sometimes people would assume that in my music, I’m talking about being in love with a man (even) when the pronouns I use are very clear in the lyrics of the song,” Pixie quipped. “It’s another case of heteronormativity and invalidation, and It needs to be stopped.”

Being a lesbian “kind of” affects her craft/music, Pixie said, “in the sense that my music is heavily targeted towards the queer community, and it’s mostly based off of my personal experiences on loving other women.” However – and Pixie stressed this – “although I feel that rather than saying ‘being a lesbian’ is affecting my music, it’s really more of just me being my genuine self, if that makes sense. Like, I don’t write because I’m a lesbian. I’ll write what I feel and think regardless of what I identify as, simply because it’s something I love to do.”

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But by and large, for Pixie, sexuality does not really matter when creating music.

“That’s the great thing about art: anyone can make it, and it’s so expressive and limitless. I don’t think it would make sense to have sexuality matter in making music. I feel like it disregards people who are questioning or unsure of their own sexuality, as well as people who just don’t give a damn about labels, which is also entirely valid. It just so happens that I have a specific style of writing that touches on my sexuality, but it doesn’t mean everyone has to do it that way. Basically, you don’t have to question yourself to make music. Just do it.”

TOUCHING LIVES

Pixie is actually fortunate that “my audience, my family, and my friends have all been so accepting and supportive of me… When I started writing more frequently, and was trying to find my own unique style, writing in regards to loving as a lesbian just came so naturally to me. I published ‘Maybe’ and the response was so overwhelming. I didn’t realize how many people I’ve helped with just one song. So after that, there was a click in my head that made me think: ‘This is what people need: LGBT representation by LGBT creators.’ So I wanted to give exactly that. Eventually, my fans started giving me nicknames like ‘Lesbian Queen’, ‘WLW Icon’, ‘Queen of The Gays’, and things like that. It’s because of them that it kind of became my branding. My family seems to recognize this too, and they’re all for it as well. My parents show their support by coming to whatever gigs they possibly can, even though they’re heard me live dozens of times. I feel really blessed.”

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Pixie is also “lucky enough to not have experienced discrimination during gigs, and hopefully I never will. Most of the gigs I’ve been to were at safe spaces, and I’m glad I can feel comfortable working with trustworthy organizations, and in certain venues.”

MUSIC FOR THE STRUGGLE

Pixie recognizes, however, that the struggle of the LGBTQIA community particularly locally is far from over.

“There is still so, so much we need to fight for before we can even get close to the kind of acceptance we hope to achieve. Every time I think we’re getting closer to our goal, I would see something on social media, like a news headline, about something terrible that’s happened to someone in the community. It’s truly devastating,” she said.

But for Pixie, “the LGBT community is really the strongest bunch of individuals that I know. Despite the challenges that come with being our true selves, we push through every day, 365 days a year. We might not be where we want to be right now, but I know our struggles will all be worth it someday.”

And how does Pixie use her platform as an artist to help the LGBTQIA community?

“I’d like to think that as an I artist, I touch on topics that are very real and relatable, especially to people who are still figuring themselves out. It’s actually quite cliché when you think about it. ‘Maybe’ is about falling in love with your best friend. ‘For You’ is about being in love. ‘What’s It Like’ and ‘Use Me’ are about unrequited love. It’s not all that different from mainstream media. When it comes to my writing, I don’t talk about the LGBT community in such an ‘in your face’ kind of way; but it’s more of using real, firsthand experiences to make unaccepting people realize we’re not as alien as they think we are. We are capable of feeling what they do, and we deserve to be loved just as much as them. I think this whole thing also applies to the community itself. By writing about these things so casually, I’m putting out a message that basically says ‘Hey, I’m gay, and it’s okay to talk about it.’”

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And so, as an openly lesbian singer/songwriter, “to me, it feels really empowering to be fighting for equally every single day, and with every song that I write and put out into the world. It’s so heartwarming to see milestones of the LGBT community being recognized – like the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, or the Metro Manila Pride March reaching over 70,000 attendees, for example. In a more personal case, I’ve gotten messages from listeners saying that my music has given them the courage to come out, or has just helped them through difficult times in general. There may be pitfalls every now and then, but I do strongly believe that we are progressing towards a more love-filled world; and it’s a nice feeling to think that I am and always will be a part of what made that happen.”

BETTER REPRESENTATION

But it wouldn’t hurt if – as she earlier mentioned – lesbian artists in the Philippines start getting being represented enough.

“It would be nice if the media (shone) light on a more diverse range of lesbian artists. Like people of different skin tones, different body types, different ethnicities, et cetera. Because there’s no right or wrong way to ‘look like’ or ‘be’ a lesbian. It doesn’t have to feel so limiting,” she said. “Plus, there may be a number of under-appreciated but extremely talented lesbian role models whom the world needs to know about.”

But at least for now, her music is helping fill a void as Pixie Labrador continues to be a lesbian artist particularly in this generation.

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NEWSMAKERS

Pinoy wins Mr. Gay World 2019

John Jeffrey Carlos won as Mr. Gay World 2019, the second time the title went to the Philippines (and Asia).

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Screencap from John Jeffrey Carlos' video for Mr. Gay World 2019

Pinoy rainbow pride.

John Jeffrey Carlos won as Mr. Gay World 2019, the second time the title went to the Philippines (and Asia).

The 41-year-old local of General Trias, Cavite is not new to pageantry, first trying his luck to represent the country in the same pageant in 2016. He placed fourth runner-up then, losing to John Raspado, who ended up winning the first Mr. Gay World title for the country.

Carlos is actually also already relatively known in various circles – e.g. in Facebook and Instagram, where his repeatedly “liked” photos range from showcasing living a luxurious lifestyle in Manila, traveling from one country to another, flexing his muscles during a workout, or wearing swimming trunks and posing provocatively for no other reason but to satisfy the fantasies of his social media followers.

Carlos – who obtained his bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management at the Cavite State University, where he also played for the men’s varsity volleyball team – also appeared in some movies directed by the late Wenn Deramas, such as “Moron 5.2: The Transformation” (2014) and “Wang Fam” (2015).

“When it comes to pageantry, the best trait of Filipino representatives [in general] is they always surprise people with their biggest ideas, just like what Catriona Gray did [in Miss Universe],” he said to Outrage Magazine in an earlier interview.

Perhaps typical of many beauty titlists who are new to their advocacies, Carlos only recently partnered wth Mental Health PH, an organization that promotes awareness about mental health through social media, a few days after winning the Mr. Fahrenheit 2019 title.

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All the same, he said that “I think it’s a very good platform for me to push my advocacy, as it is very timely and relevant, especially with the LGBTQI community… We’ve heard so much about mental health issues and things are getting worse. In my own little way, I want to spread awareness about depression, so people will know what to do in case they feel some of the symptoms of this mental illness, affecting us and our loved ones.”

As Carlos wears the second Mr. Gay World title for the Philippines, he stressed: “We have to reach out to people with depression. Together, we can turn this illness to wellness.”

Carlos – who competed with 21 other contestants in Cape Town, South Africa – has a partner and they’ve been living together for the past seven years.

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People You Should Know

Overcome doubts to be happier version of yourself, says gay Ateneo grad who topped 2018 bar exams

Openly gay, Atty. Sean James Borja obtained the highest score of 89.3060%, leading the 1,800 aspiring lawyers who passed the bar exams.

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Photo credit: Facebook/Atty. Sean James Borja

“Definitely there were a lot of times I doubted myself but I’m happy to say that I did overcome those doubts and insecurities and I’m just happy to be me right now.”

These are the words of now Atty. Sean James Borja, an Ateneo de Manila University alumnus, who topped the 2018 bar exams.

Openly gay, Borja obtained the highest score of 89.3060%, leading the 1,800 aspiring lawyers who passed the bar exams.

Interviewed by ABS-CBN News Channel following the Supreme Court’s announcement of the results of the 2018 bar exam, Borja was asked if he had ever felt that “being gay did not make you worthy to follow your aspirations.”

Borja was quoted as saying that “definitely… I guess especially during grade school — you know how grade school is like when you’re being bullied for being different and it was during that time… where you think you’re not good enough to be at the top; to be a lawyer to fulfill your dreams just because of who you are.”

When Borja delivered his valedictory address for class 2018 of the Ateneo Law School, Borja actually talked about his being part of the LGBTQIA community.

The rest of the top 10 are:

  • Marcley Augustus Natu-el, University of San Carlos, 87.53%
  • Mark Lawrence Badayos, University of San Carlos, 85.842%
  • Daniel John Fordan, Ateneo de Manila University, 85.443%
  • Katrina Monica Gaw, Ateneo de Manila University, 85.421%
  • Nadaine Tongco, University of the Philippines, 85.032%
  • Patricia Sevilla, University of the Philippines, 84.859%
  • Kathrine Ting, De La Salle University-Manila, 84.857%
  • Jebb Lynus Cane, University of San Carlos, 84.805%
  • Alan Joel Pita, University of San Carlos, 84.693%
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The 2018 bar exam posted a passing rate of 22.07%, which is lower than the previous year’s passing rate of 25.5%.

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